Warfare for Writers - 2


I attended the World Fantasy Convention 2014 and I was fortunate to attend a presentation by Timons Esaias on Warfare for Writers. He graciously agreed to allow me to use his material for this blog, which covers ancient to modern eras. Timons is a great speaker and he is well known as an expert in the field of Warfare. I can’t thank him enough for his kindness and help. I hope he doesn’t mind my placing a few comments in the material.

The main classifications of military units and warriors

[These are the common types as they have existed in the "gunpowder era", which is roughly the last 700 years. Some of these types are already fading into history, some (like infantry and cavalry) have existed almost since war began.]

Land Units

Type Definition What individual is called
Infantry (Army) Infantry is the name for warriors who fight on foot, and generally arrive at the battlefield on foot, carrying their own weapons. ("Mounted Infantry" ride to battle, but fight on foot.) infantryman, soldier
Cavalry Warriors who arrive at the battlefield, and also fight, on the backs of animals (horses, camels, elephants, etc.). We now use the name for units using light, fast vehicles, including ("air cavalry") small helicopters. trooper, cavalryman
Dragoons Warriors who are both cavalry and infantry. They are trained to fight both mounted and dismounted. trooper, dragoon
Artillery Warriors in the artillery fight using projectile weapons too large for one person to carry.   They work in "crews," hence the term "crew-served weapon." They are not (generally) extensively trained to fight without their specific weapons. artilleryman, cannoneer (if using cannon, of course), artillerist

 Naval Units

Navy Warriors who fight at sea, aboard boats and ships sailor; seaman; also sometimes distinguished by the type of vessel, as in submariner
Marines This is a special unit of navies, basically infantry that is carried on board ships. They operate first as the police force for the ship. They can defend the ships in ship-to-ship combat and board enemies, or can also go ashore for land engagements. Marine (but NOT soldier)
Naval Infantry These are sailors trained to fight as land units, generally to man and defend coastal fortifications or port defenses. This often puts them in the role of artillerists. (They differ from Marines in not being trained to fight on ships, or to police ships. If moved by sea, they travel in transports, not warships.) sailor

Air Units

Air Force Warriors who fight in airplanes and helicopters, and sometimes zeppelins. Also includes the considerable number of people who provide ground services for this effort. (Most members of any air force don't actually fly in combat.) airmen

And Then There's

Coast Guard Many nations have them, but what they are varies considerably. In some countries they are people who protect the coastline, from on the shore. Often they are not an armed military unit at all. They may also rescue wrecked ships. In the US, they are another Navy, charged with rescue operations, drug inspections, buoy maintenance, river patrols, and ice-breaking. In WWII they drove landing craft, and in Iraq they patrol the Shatt al-Arab.

Nota Bene: These definitions are NOT absolute. I can think of a long list of exceptions to every single one on this chart, but they work in general. A reason for these "exceptions" is that units and forces tend to mutate over time, like the cavalry no longer having horses, even though that was once the very definition of that term. Everybody likes to try to do everything, too, so the US Army, for instance, has its own little navy, and its own air force. The Navy has an air force, and the Marines, though really part of the Navy, have their own air force, too, and bits of their own navy.

These terms are sufficiently generic (in English) that you could get away with using most of them in whatever culture or time you are portraying. But it's best not to assume too much, and to actually do the research to find out how things were done, and what they were called, in that culture. The permutations may amaze you ... and give you colorful details to employ.

This list also doesn't include the endless list of units and jobs with names like gunner, sapper, engineer, grenadier, bombardier, vedette, hussar, airborne and on and on.



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